For many years I’ve kept paper records of the things I’ve done in a given week. The rationale for keeping track is that I can be very busy, get a lot of real work done, but quickly forget about it because I routinely task shift between major projects. The result of this shifting is that I often produce thousands of words a week and forget about them once published. Keeping records has helped to ameliorate this forgetfulness problem.
In more recent years, rather than letting my week get filled up with ‘what I’ve done’ I’ve developed lists to try and keep me focused on the most important things. That has worked reasonably well, save that a lot of ‘extras’ get added to my week and then I’d typically just list them down with all of the planned tasks. So it looked like I was getting a lot done but, when I reviewed those lists a few weeks or months later, I couldn’t determine which were intentional versus unintentional tasks. During this period I also started to have a master list of my professional and personal objectives for a given week, and crossed them off as I finished them up. Tasks that didn’t get done tended to be moved to the subsequent week and, at the end of a work week, I’d have a short narrative explanation for what I did, why I did it, and how I felt about my professional and personal life during that period of time. That narrative component was important because it forced me to reflect at the end of the week on how the week had gone: pure lists didn’t compel that kind of introspection and, as such, weren’t as helpful for facilitating my personal development.
This year, things are (again) slightly different. I’ve separated out personal and professional tasks, for one: I continue to maintain a professional notebook but instead of also including a long list of my personal goals for the week, only highlight the top two or three personal items. I also have a section in my professional notebook for ‘extras’, or things which other people place on my schedule and which I accomplish in a given week. This helps me to segregate out how much of my work — and work accomplishments — are ‘mine’ versus belonging to others.
I also now have a pair of ‘personal’ notebooks; one is very tiny and travels everywhere with me. In addition to goal tracking I use it to record highlights from some books I’m reading, record useful quotations, or otherwise collect mental items that I want to retain longer-term. At the end of each week I move the items on the task list into my long-term personal notebook; other items (e.g. quotations, book notes, etc) are moved over when appropriate, such as when I’m done with reading a book for personal development and have concluded taking notes from it. On the Sunday or Monday of each week (i.e. very end of one week or very beginning of the next) I undertake a narrative reflection on how my personal life unfolded.
I’ve found that this system has been helpful for advancing my projects. It means that my work projects are always moving ahead a little each week, or that a single project enjoys a significant advancement if I almost entirely concentrate on it. Because I have a deliberate system planned out I can always find something else ‘productive’ to do if I’m stuck on a task or complete the element of a project I’d assigned myself in a given week. Having a deliberate series of tasks to complete also helps me to say ‘no’ to requests: if it’s important, and will take some time, then it gets moved to next week’s ‘todo’ instead of being taken up right away.1 In tandem with maintaining a deliberate task list I’ve taken to recording monthly highlights: I go through and identify the major victories over a given month (e.g. writing, speaking, planning, etc); this is useful to capture what I’ve been up to in a given month as well as to potentially advocate for pay cheque increases when my contract is renewed.
On the personal side, the system I’ve adopted of establishing weekly goals means I’m genuinely working on my more measurable yearly goals. It also means that I can always identify something ‘productive’ that I can spend time on, rather than just burning away a lot of time playing video games or watching Netflix. That’s not to say that all of my personal time is spent working! Projects I assign myself can range from reading fiction a few times in a given week, working through a backlog of high-quality magazine articles, exercising, or just organizing/cleaning my home. The point is to spend my personal time more deliberately, not to cut myself off from things that bring me joy and pleasure.
So far this system has served me well and keeps me relatively well grounded in my personal and professional life. It’s not as complicated or ornate as some of the task management systems that other people use. It doesn’t entail scheduling each and every second of my day, because I know that such organization systems just won’t work for me. It also means that there remains a lot of ‘gap’ time that’s filled with miscellaneous activities and opportunities, meaning that my life is relatively self-scheduled without being over-scheduled.
What system have you found works best, for you, to advance your professional and personal goals, projects, and objectives?
Quotation of the Week
“I strongly believe that the amount of love and care you put into a project is always apparent. Even if people are not conscious of it, they can sense when you have paid attention to every little detail.”
– Jocelyn K. Glei
Great Photography Shots
I really love these shots that Yuichi Yokota took of Tokyo during snowfalls.
Music I’m Digging
Neat Podcast Episodes
- The Daily – March 12, 2018 (Part 1 of coverage of Leopoldo López, opposition leader of Venezuela)
- The Daily – March 13, 2018 (Part 2 of coverage of Leopoldo López, opposition leader of Venezuela)
Good Reads for the Week
- Student debt: The crippling side effect of education
- Crypto.com is not for sale
- A Law Professor Explains Why You Should Never Talk to Police
- How To Stop Kinder Morgan
- What Happens When An Algorithm Cuts Your Health Care?
- SpaceX launch last year punched huge, temporary hole in the ionosphere
- I’ve been finding that if you promise you can do something, but only one week later, a lot of the miscellaneous tasks that are really about people just wanting fast work done go away, thus freeing up my schedule. Your mileage may vary. ↩